( Monday, June 22, 2009 )

The Dumbest Generation

I read a book recently called "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein. It was essentially about the decline in reading among teenagers and young adults, and the subsequent decline in, well, smartness. It's been awhile since a single book made me feel so many different things: incredulity, fear (for teenagers specifically but also society in general), anger, conviction, guilt, and even inspiration.

He spends a lot of time talking about where exactly the shift away from books is moving/has moved -- towards visual media, the internet, social networking, and any number of related distractions. And one of the most interesting arguments is that these media, especially social networking among teenagers, creates what he calls "a generational cocoon," a sort of perpetual adolescence. They spend so much time invested in it that they lose connection with older generations, with a world that exists outside of and beyond themselves, and ultimately with what really matters. And, in the end, it stunts their growth. In his words: "the minds of the young plateau at 18" (pg. 10).

Yet while I was reading the book, I kept wondering about what it meant to Christianity. If it's true, as he suggests, that modern culture--and teenagers especially--are becoming so entrenched in a system of multitasking and noise, flashing images and brilliant, blinding distraction, to the point that sitting in silence and reading a book is aggravating and impossible -- well, what affect does that have on a faith that requires silence, that demands being quiet before God and listening, reading and studying?

He spends most of the end of the book discussing why, exactly, being "intelligent" actually matters, why spending time reading, being quiet, being able to follow a argument from Point A to Point B without getting lost in the middle has merit. And it was at that point that I really saw a connection to Christianity, to the need for thought and understanding as compliments--foundations--to faith. Even though the book is targeted towards society in general, there were a surprising number of moments where it was as if he were talking to the Church.

Here's one such example that I think more Christians need to take into consideration:

Insularity is unhealthy. It gives insiders false pictures of the world and overconfidence in their opinions. It consoles them on all sides with compliant reflection. But the comforts of belonging don't prepare them to leave the group, to enter the marketplace of ideas and defeat adversaries with the weapons of the intellect, not the devices of group standing, party membership, accreditation, and inside information. However intelligent they are, people who think and act within their niche avoid the irritating presence of ideological foes, but they also forgo one of the preconditions of learning: hearing the other side. Hearing them, that is, in earnest and positive versions, not through the lens of people who don't endorse them. They develop their own positions, tautly and intricately, but can't imagine others'. Again, in the words of John Stuart Mill: "They have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them." A paradoxical effect sets in. The more secure they feel, the more limited their horizons and the more parochial their outlook.

--Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, pg. 221-22

( Saturday, June 20, 2009 )

You must change your life.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

( Wednesday, June 10, 2009 )

Sequentially Yours

1. I love wind. The feel of it on my face, my skin, swirling around me and pulling and pushing me all at once. If, on a hot day, a choice had to be made between air conditioning or wind, and gas mileage wasn't a factor, I would choose wind without hesitation. As it is, I don't have air conditioning, so I choose wind by default. But still. I love wind. And yes, my gas mileage sucks.

2. I saw Terminator Salvation. It was super lame.

3. A quote I have chewed on and found tasty and true:
"Perhaps...it is a healthy process in the life story of humanity for older generations to berate the younger, for young and old to relate in a vigorous competitive dialectic, with the energy and optimism of youth vying against the wisdom and realism of elders in a fruitful check of one another's worst tendencies."

(Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation)

4. I don't like group projects. Really, I don't like group projects that involve a "group paper." I don't understand why teachers insist on assigning them. Don't they understand that people write differently? How do they expect a group of 4 or 5 people to submit one consistent, well-written paper? Because I'll tell you what happens: one person writes the whole thing and everyone gets credit. Or, just as likely, they all share the blame.

I'm in such a group, and the overall project is made up of three smaller "group papers" and then a bigger, final one. Unfortunately my group consists of two members who don't like to talk and one member who is both unreasonably strong-willed and -- to put it mildly -- a moron. In his wisdom, he continually "edits" my work, removing any semblance of sense and structure, and then submits it behind my back, before I've had the chance to salvage what was originally perfectly fine. I swear, if I get a bad mark on the final because of him, I'm going to graffiti his house with as many grammatically-correct unpleasantries as I can before the coppers show up.

5. I finally got around to watching the movie Once. Sweet Peas and Pie, it was good. Let's just say if that movie was a woman, I'd be a father by now.

No, I have no idea what that means either.

6. I've mentioned my Tim Horton's drive-thru troubles before, but I think they warrant another mention, if only because I just went through another minor episode of verbal jousting with an ever-bright Timmies employee. For some reason, this particular Tim Horton's near my house can never seem to comprehend what I'm saying.

Here's what I order: a large coffee, with two cream and two sweetener. Now, I've tried ordering it several ways, hoping one might be easier or clearer than another. But it never seems to matter.


I say, "Hi, can I have a large double-double--with sweetner?"
They return, "A large double-double, and, sorry, what?"
I answer, carefully articulating each syllable, "Sweetener. A large double-double with sweetener."
They say, "So a large double-double with extra sweetener?"

Yes. Obviously. Because that makes sense.

The best I can do, I've found, is to just ask for "a large coffee with two cream and two sweetener." But of course, they still have trouble with the second "two," thinking I said "three." I have no idea how they can hear the first "two" but mishear the second "two."

One guy gave me a black coffee and when I tried to return it, he looked confused and said, "But you asked for no cream and no sweetener." I may mumble occasionally, I'll admit, but I don't think it's as bad as that, is it?

If there was ever a good reason to cut back on the coffee consumption, it's hard-of-hearing drive-thru tellers.

7. I feel old. I'm 26. Is it normal to feel old at this age?

A case study:

A few weeks ago I went to Edmonton with some friends who were working at a Youth Convention being held there. There were a lot of people in the arena, 16,000 or so. Half of the conference was devoted to concerts, and the other half to talks. We sat backstage for the whole thing, recording the sessions.

Anyway, I wore ear plugs during the concerts. That might not seem unreasonable, and it isn't. And that's just it: it's completely reasonable -- after all, I don't want to lose my hearing. But if that isn't an old person thing to think, I don't know what is. Even worse, though, was falling asleep in my chair during one of the concerts. I'm almost ashamed to admit it.

I feel like I have an obligation to go out and buy an Italian car and dye my hair.

8. I'm finally going to be getting my motorcycle license this summer. That thought just made me pee myself a little. Yeah, I'm that happy. Deal with it.

9. I'm continually comforted by the fact that no one I have ever met, in my entire life, has any real clue what they're doing. Most people pretend they do; some don't even bother. A few have even deluded themselves into thinking that, no, no, they know what they're doing. They don't. I think that calls for a group hug.

10. I'm cursed with the innate ability to unintentionally make very inappropriate comments in social situations. I've been considering compiling them into some sort of Definitive Guide to Repel Those Around You and Bring Shame to Your Family's Name. I'm not sure what the market is like for that sort of thing, though.

11. A favourite joke of mine:

Q: What do you call an animal with two wives?

A: A cheetah!

Get it? Because, like, "cheetah" sounds like "cheater," which is was what you'd call someone who was messing around on his wife...? You know what I mean? Get it? It's funny right? Haha...ha...*cough*

12. Failblog makes me laugh everytime. Ah, sweet stupidity, sweet laughter.